A graph about as useful as most of those you'll find on our present subject.

A graph about as useful as most of those you'll find on our present subject.


Look, I like graphs as much as the next person. In my day job, I have to teach teenagers how to do math, interpret graphs, and accurately plot data points, and if I didn't enjoy that at least on some level I'd have jumped out a window after doing it for nearly 15 years.

I was looking at a few neat graphs charting the price-vs-quality ratio over at Business Insider when I was suddenly struck with the bullshittiness of it all. 

I'll volunteer myself and this website as a case in point. I have no doubt that if you converted my worthless, inane star system into some kind of numeric rating and tracked what I liked, you too would find that there's little correlation between price paid and the experience you have with the bottle. However, on a huge level that's a mistaken conclusion.

My goal is to try to evaluate every product on its own terms. Part of that is considering the positioning of that product. As prices edge higher, so do my expectations, and conversely, my rating. Let's take a look at two scotches that are close to my heart. I gave Bank Note my highest rating. I gave the Oban Distiller's Edition slightly less. Does that mean that Bank Note is better?

Oh, egads, no. No way in hell. The Oban is sophisticated and delicious and whips the pants off of Bank Note when placed side-by-side. But remember that they're not competing with one another. The Oban DE is about a $90 whiskey. Bank Note is about $17 for a liter. But I scored the Bank Note as highly as I did because within its price category, absolutely nothing can touch it. But if price were absolutely no object and if I weren't budget conscious? So long, Bank Note.

As cost increases, so do our expectations.

Let's look at it from another vantage point. A friend of mine was telling me that his girlfriend delivers cars for Tesla and has to deal with the insane whining of millionaires who, once their car is delivered, bitch and moan that the color of the paint or stitching wasn't the exact shade that it was on the website. A lot of us point and laugh at their first world problems, but let's try to empathize just a little bit. If they've sold their souls trying to climb the corporate ladder and their Tesla Model X is the one nice thing they can do for themselves—and if they've shelled out nearly $100,000 for that car—shouldn't it be absolutely perfect?

Again, as cost increases, so do our expectations. It's one of the reasons why I'm more likely to send a meal back at a high-end restaurant than I am at the corner diner. And that's why I've abandoned the idea of any kind of objective rating system that tries to strip out any discussion of cost or emotion (and by extension, the perception of value). I think those dimensions are important.

I read a great comment just a while ago. One poster responding to a list of “best values” posted from Liquor.com said, “Evan Williams [Black Label] always makes these lists. And it IS a bargain. But it is a $13 bourbon that tastes like a $20 bourbon. What I'm looking for is a $20 bourbon that tastes like a $35 bourbon.” 

I think those are what the high ratings here denote, and what I intend them to mean. I wouldn't touch Evan Williams Black if I was going to make a list of my favorite bourbons, but I bought a bottle on my own volition. The reason? To store at my sister's house so when I came over I didn't have to have Seagram's Seven any more. Highland Park 18 is a $130 whiskey that tastes like a $200 whiskey. Atlantico White is a $17 bottle that tastes like a $35 bottle. 

So take these charts with a grain of salt. I'll be the first to tell you that there's values to be had, but in general you do get what you pay for.